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Berlin Airlift

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Commemorating the Berlin Airlift
Events to mark the 60th anniversary of the end of the Berlin Airlift, and the outstanding contribution of UK Armed Forces throughout the campaign began yesterday (12 May) in Berlin.
At the start of the Berlin Blockade, before the Airlift started, West Berlin had just thirty-five days’ worth of food, and forty-five days’ worth of coal. Without the involvement of the Allied Armed Forces, West Berlin would have been lost and the nature of post-war Europe would have altered significantly. British aircraft flew spent more than 210,000 hours in the air, the equivalent of 24 man years, and flew more than 30 million miles, which equates to flying to the moon and back 63 times. During the Airlift, British military and civilian aircraft lifted more than 540,000 tons. This included food, coal, liquid fuel, military equipment and other items, such as metal girders to rebuild the bridges in the city destroyed during the Second World War. The airlift sustained the population of West Berlin, at that time estimated to be around two million. Their daily requirement for food alone was 900 tons of potatoes; 641 tons of flour; 106 tons of meat and fish, 105 tons of cereals and so on, amounting altogether to some 1,800 to 2,000 tons of food alone every day. Nearly 45 per cent of the food and supplies taken in to Berlin were flown in British aircraft. Alongside the population of Berlin, there were also many Servicemen and women with their families stationed in the city as part of the Allied garrison for the duration of the Blockade. British aircraft also transported more than 131,000 individuals – mainly children and the sick – out of Berlin for medical attention in West Germany. They also transported people in to the city, including Service personnel and their families. The British were the only force that sustained trade with the city, exporting nearly 360,000 tons of goods produced in Berlin out to West Germany and beyond. The Soviet Blockade was lifted on 12 May 1949, the Airlift having prevented the starvation of the city. Flights continued for several months however, ensuring the city was well stocked in the event of further blockades. The commemorative event on 26 September will be held at the Berlin Airlift Memorial at the National Memorial Arboretum, Staffordshire. The personnel who lost their lives are commemorated in a special orchard of 39 trees, planted so they blossom in May, and bear fruit in the autumn, symbolically marking the final flight and the purpose of the Airlift. Forty British veterans visited the former RAF Gatow Airfield in Berlin yesterday, where they operated from during the June 1948 to May 1949 campaign. The veterans then travelled to Airlift Memorial at Templehof Airport where an international commemoration took place. Wreaths were laid on behalf of the countries involved in the Airlift. Citizens of Berlin stood alongside veterans of the campaign from the UK, USA, France, Australia, Canada and New Zealand for a minute’s silence to remember those who lost their lives in ensuring others did not. 39 personnel from the UK were killed in the operation. British aircraft flew more than 175,000 trips to and from the city as the RAF, supported by civilian pilots and Army teams on the ground, faced the most challenging of conditions in ensuring that the two million people living in Berlin did not starve or freeze to death when their supplies were cut off by the Soviets. Events will culminate on 26 September, the anniversary of one of the final flights, with a commemorative event organised by the Ministry of Defence at the Berlin Airlift Memorial in Staffordshire. Service veterans, those who supported from the civilian population, and their families, are urged to apply for tickets to attend to what is likely to be the last major commemoration for this remarkable endeavour.

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